RIYADH—Saudi Arabian authorities arrested at least 20 people Sunday after a group of Saudis protested outside the interior ministry in the capital demanding the release of political detainees, human-rights activists said.
“About 16 women and children were arrested, as well as a group of men during the protest,” said Mohammed al-Qahtani, the head of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association. “They are currently under investigation, and we don’t know when they will be released.”
The detained protesters were among about 50 Saudis who, inspired by protests elsewhere in the Middle East, joined a campaign launched by a group called A Prisoner Until When? The organization said its campaign seeks the release of members’ relatives through a fair and transparent judicial system and that its protest wasn’t antigovernment.
The protest was the second in the capital this year after some 200 activists gathered in March outside the interior ministry and called for the release of political prisoners.
An interior ministry spokesman couldn’t be reached to comment, but the ultraconservative kingdom has repeatedly warned that protests and marches won’t be tolerated and that security forces will prevent any attempt to cause public disorder.
“This may seem like a small demonstration by Western standards, but one must remember the context: public political protest is almost unheard of in Saudi Arabia,” said Benjamin Joffe-Walt, human-rights editor of Change.org, a global activism platform. “What happened today explains perfectly why Saudi Arabians are scared to voice dissent: a small group of men, women and children state clearly that they love their country and respect their government but simply want their loved ones to be given a fair trial or released…and what happens? They are all quickly rounded up and arrested.”